The Trouble With Anthologies

In more recent months I’ve been drawn to reading short story collections featuring different authors. I like being able to sample different fictional worlds and get exposed to many new authors at once. But the more anthologies I read, the more I’m having trouble with one thing: how to review them.

The issue I find in reviewing anthologies is that it is inevitable that I’m going to give the collection a 4 / 5 rating. Why? Because naturally I’m going to like most of the stories, but not all. Most stories will fall into the collection’s theme quite easily; most will make me think, but won’t shock me; and while there may be a few stories I strongly dislike, that are shocking or confusing, or simply don’t fit the overarching theme, most will, resulting in a 4 / 5.

For example, here are three recent anthologies I have read:

My True Love Gave to Me – Stephanie Perkins (Editor)
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells – Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (Editors)
Robot Uprisings – Daniel H. Wilson & John Joseph Adams (Editors)

Of course will all three of these collections the rating is 4 / 5.

So then begins the question: How to review an anthology?

While I enjoy being able to consider an overarching theme, I struggle with the idea of losing an author’s work amidst all other stories. I dislike the limitation of rating all of the authors with one single rating. Now obviously the rating should be for the collection, and not for specific authors. Yet it does bother me that if I absolutely love one author’s story, and hate another, both authors will get a middle rating. I’m disappointed that I can’t highlight the really awesome author.

The next idea would be to rate each story on its own, to better judge each author’s work on an individual basis. (For a great example of this, check out Browsing Bookshelves review of My True Love Gave To Me.) I love in this style that each author is given attention; however, it is quite limiting, as I would only be able to write 2 or 3 sentences for each story. It’s also important to note that My True Love Gave To Me only features 12 short stories, and I have seen anthologies that feature up to 30 stories! Rating each individual story would not only be tedious for me to write, but also for people reading my review.

The Conclusion I’ve Come To:

I am now left wanting a sort of hybrid review. I want to be able to consider the collection as a whole, and digest its overall theme. I also want to be able to highlight particular authors and their work. I think what I’m going to do in the future is write a short section on the anthology as a whole, and then move on to note 2 or 3 short stories that I really loved, and perhaps even a couple that I really didn’t. This way the review does not get tedious to read, but I’m not ignoring the individual author’s either.

This is the plan! While reviewing anthologies can be quite difficult, I’m going to continue to brainstorm different ways to best consider the content. What do you think? If you have any suggestions for me, leave them in the comments!

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2 comments on “The Trouble With Anthologies

  1. I understand your struggle. I’ve just done a review of an anthology. Feel free to copy my structure.

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